New U.S Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, the Chicano’s Literary Rock Star

On Wednesday morning, Herrera became U.S. poet laureate for his prolific countless poems and inspirational work as an educator – but writing poems isn’t the only thing this Chicano can do. He’s a rockstar, actor, master bird-caller and so much more…

He’s the first Chicano to achieve this honor. And it’s kind of a big deal.

Juan Felipe Herrera
Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

No Latino has ever received this high-level title and it doesn’t get any higher than this. Other poets who’ve received this honor include the great Robert Frost and Philip Levine.

His mother’s singing helped him fall in love with poetry.

Thousands of Embraces
Credit: The Root of a THousand Embraces / Amazon

The songs that inspired him the most were about the Mexican Revolution – of all things. If she could see how far he’s come, “my mother would be so happy. She’d be clapping. Maybe crying. And dancing.”

Bird calling is one of his secret talents.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

As told in his children’s book Calling the Doves, he tells how his dad taught him how to master the art so perfectly by whistling into his hands, doves would fly right in.

As the son of migrant workers, one of his biggest passions is immigration.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

His parents came from Mexico after the Mexican Revolution of 1910 in search of the American Dream. During his youth, his family moved from tents to trailers, “crop to crop, field to field” so his parents could sustain work as field workers.

Walt Whitman is one of his biggest inspirations.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

Like Breaking Bad‘s Walter White who kept Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in his bathroom, Juan Felipe Herrera also drew inspiration from Whitman’s works. Among his other inspirations were César Vallejo and Picasso.

He was punished for not being fluent in English. Then proved the haters wrong.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

He recalls being punished in the first grade for not speaking perfect English. Fast-forward a few years and he went on to get degrees from UCLA and Stanford – and later become the U.S. Poet Laureate. How’s that for fluency?

His books of poetry resonate with audiences of all ages.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

He’s published over two dozen books with poems that swing between English and Spanish.

Easy to see why. His words and enthusiasm are contagious.

Credit: UCR MFA Program / YouTube

Herrera told the Washington Post that he believes poetry “is a way to attain a life without borders.”

The acting bug bit him in the late 60s.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

He attended UCLA, being amongst the first to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship. There he was influenced by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez and began performing in experimental theatre.

So did the music bug.

Credit: USC Libraries / YouTube

He likes to plays some sick licks to accompany his poems.

As you can see, his words transcend into all genres, including musicals.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

His popular children’s book The Upside Down Boy was adapted into a musical and has published award-winning fiction.

Artistic talent runs in the family.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

His uncle Roberto is an actor, community organizer, radio host and comedic theatre performer. His other uncle was a muralist and painter. His dad founded this church in Mesquite, New Mexico in the early 1930s.

Oh, and he’s just like us.

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Credit: Juan Felipe Herrera / Facebook

Herrera loves to share pictures of food…especially chiles.

Who’s your favorite Latino poet? Leave a comment below to let us know.